THE MATRIX RELOADED written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, produced by Joel Silver, with Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Lambert Wilson and Monica Bellucci. 138 minutes. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 78. Rating: NNNN
There is no spoon, but that hasn't stopped fans from slurping.
Andy and Larry Wachowski's distillation of Japanese anime, Chinese martial arts, American action and myth systems from both East and West made The Matrix the most influential film since Star Wars.
The second film in a trilogy to be completed in November with The Matrix Revolutions, Reloaded is bigger, wilder, fuller and longer than the first. But it's missing one of the essential elements of The Matrix – wonder.
Reloaded begins with Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in battle with an Agent. They plunge through a skyscraper window. Guns blazing in both hands, Trinity fires at the Agent as they fall in slow-motion “bullet time” to the street. A million shards of black glass splinter the images reflected by her black vinyl catsuit.
It's as sexy and kinetic as anything in The Matrix, but there's no thrill at one woman taking on three condescending male cops, no shock at her gravity-defying power, no urgency in her flight from the Agent. Everything is known, which diminishes the thrill of discovery that drives all stories.
Neo (Keanu Reeves) is no longer the woozy hacker waking up to the reality that his entire world was a software fiction. Now he's a black-robed superhero who can fly and already has Trinity. Who can identify with this guy?
What Reloaded needs is an underdog. The Wachowskis try to even the odds during one battle, pitting Neo against a hundred Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving). Smith is now a rogue who can replicate himself within the Matrix. Even worse, he still insists on calling Neo Mr. Anderson. Their fight is a breathtaking set piece, far more complex than anything in the first movie. But plot-wise, it's pointless.
Zion was always the weak spot in The Matrix cosmology. Conceived as the last human city and withheld from view in the first Matrix, it turns out to be a standard-issue sci-fi world of earthy types in flowing robes right out of the Star Wars/Star Trek universe. During a borderline laughable scene, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) exhorts the Zionites to overcome their fear of the machines and party like it's 2199. The writhing, sweating bodies make it feel way too much like an adman's idea of a rave.
And when Harvard philosopher Cornel West makes a cameo appearance as one of Zion's councillors, you know the Wachowskis have begun to buy their own myth.
But Reloaded rocks.
Our disappointment is only the result of comparing it to the immense achievement of the first film. Reloaded is still smarter, sexier and more imaginative than most action movies ever hope to be.
Fishburne, Moss and especially Reeves perform awe-inspiring martial arts with such fluency, you begin to take it for granted. Neo and the Oracle (Gloria Foster) share one lovely scene, made all the more poignant by Foster's death from diabetes just after filming.
There s a perfect, sly performance by Lambert Wilson as Merovingian, an aesthete who adopts a French hauteur within the Matrix. It s a glorious bit of camembert for the Wachowskis' Parisian fans.
And there's a freeway chase that surpasses anything ever put onscreen.